Robert Geller from New Mexico
A WINTER WONDERLAND
By Robert Geller
One of the joys of being a journeyman announcer is the opportunity to travel between destinations each year—in my case Auburn, Wash. and Las Cruces, NM, as I honor my work contracts for both Emerald Downs and Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino.
Tuesday, Dec. 6, marked the opening of the winter meet at Sunland, a track that mirrors my age. Let's just say, it celebrated the big 50 a couple of seasons ago. Officially based in the city of Sunland Park, the track's location is more aptly recognized as being across the road from El Paso, TX. Locals can vouch for that with the popular State-Line Steakhouse, splitting the New Mexico-Texas border, about a quarter of a mile from the racetrack's entrance.
Having savored the region for almost a decade now –- how time flies when you're having fun—Las Cruces has replaced El Paso as my winter abode. The second largest town in New Mexico, Albuquerque being the largest, the commute from Las Cruces to Sunland is 42 miles on the Interstate-10 corridor or when weather conditions permit, the twisting and turning back-roads that wind past pecan orchards, small villages and ranches. With the artsy, adobe filled Mesilla district a short drive from my current residence, I am reminded that Las Cruces offers an economical slice of the land of enchantment that tourists pay top dollar for the Santa Fe version of.
My new neighborhood in Las Cruces, NM
There is no direct relationship between my comfort as a race-caller and my home surrounds but the longer I do this job, the more important it becomes to have a sweet spot to call home, even for a temporary stay like mine. It is easy to assume that preparation for a job like mine that requires precision and flow begins with study of past performances for a race-day. In my mind, there is a deeper preparation than this that would guard against feeling off-center, especially in a relatively foreign environment. If I am sounding a little New Age then perhaps I have integrated the regional experience internally after all.
In the charming coffee shop from which I am writing this blog, for example, an eclectic group of customers has just wrapped up a conversation on universal Oneness. The tin roof paneling that has formed a notice board by the baristas is full of listings for Tai Chi, Meditation, Dance and Tarot. For a mere $10, I can head to the plaza later today and get a reading, but right now I'm happy with my choices and do not feel the urge. It's an interesting mix here of spiritual seekers and what I call meat and potato types with their strong ties to the land. My personality seems to fall somewhere between the two. Remember, I do need my fill of sports bar Monday night football just as much as a hearty discussion on raising the stream of consciousness. And if the New York Jets happen to be playing that night, forget it, I'm in my own little world of Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez, and hunter green and white.
It's snowing at my house in Las Cruces!
Back to Mother Nature, she seemed to take all of us here captive this week by delivering a piercing, brutal snow-storm to the region that took everyone outside their own head. Ironic, isn't it, that after driving 1,700 miles with picture perfect weather through Washington, Oregon, California and Arizona, the weather gods would turn on me less than 24 hours prior to the start of the new racing season? Indeed the snow fell thick and fast, turning streets in my area into a winter wonderland. The unexpected whitening opened the door on a festive premature Christmas atmosphere that had my newfound neighbor inviting me in to join her for a belated Thanksgiving party already in progress. We even traipsed through the snow around the street corner, our wine in hand, to another of my new neighbors to continue this unexpected celebration, of what I am not exactly sure. Believe me, I was not complaining. A memorable welcome to my neighborhood, wouldn't you say?
The next morning, an early start was imperative to ensure the 35-minute drive to the track for opening day, a drive that had ballooned into an hour and a quarter given the icy roads in Las Cruces. On my approach to the track it was apparent that the snow melt had begun, and that any risk of cancellation had well and truly passed. Nonetheless, a lot seemed to have transpired in the short time since having tested the equipment and completed the rundown for the opening preview show, the day before.
Boasting a healthy 11-race card that was being beamed into California, management was optimistic for a good start to the 77-day meeting that runs through April 17, 2012. Emerald Downs, of course, normally opens in mid-April, and that sometimes means my race calling duties overlap. So I'll be watching keenly for Emerald's 2012 live racing dates announcement next month.
But back at Sunland, after three Quarter-horse races were under my belt, the Thoroughbreds kicked in—as did I. Having been away from the microphone since the closure of the live season in late September at Emerald, I could feel the time away had served me well as had the choice to make Las Cruces my home away from home. With the Championship at Sunland Park, one of the nation's leading quarter-horse races only a few weeks away, I wanted to get my eyes in focus quickly. Thanks to Dan Huffman of Emerald's TV department, for whom no technical challenge is too much, my new binocular attachment stand that allowed me to use my set of Pentax 10 x 40s for the first time outside of my home track, the transition to New Mexico proved smooth.
The Grade 3 Sunland Derby may be the only race some out of state viewers may watch from Sunland - Sunday, March 25 if you want to jot down the date - though a part of me would like to think that with such bountiful field size that is not the case. Sunland Park has the opportunity to pool horses from an expanded region that encompasses Texas, Louisiana, California, Oklahoma and even Kentucky, offering an interesting handicapping challenge beyond the staple New Mexico bred races.
But my days of having to proselytize about the two independently owned and run tracks for which I work are gone. Those who ‘get' us at Emerald Downs really get us and the same is true for Sunland Park. Sometimes it is nice to know that you are sitting on two of the best-kept secrets in the industry.